The Union Cartage Company

Union Cartage had its origins as a lighterage company transporting goods from cargo vessels on the Thames to public wharfs in the heart of London. Eventually lighterage companies began providing other services such as road transport from the docks to warehouses

Union Cartage was acquired by the Vestey family in the early 1900s and grew to become one of the biggest meat hauliers in the country

Steam powered tractor units were used to haul meat trailers from the docks to the cold stores

In 1965 when road transport was finally privatised again, Union International (the Vestey group) bought a stake in BRS Meat Haulage and merged it with UCC

The first frozen meat arrived by ship from Australia in 1880 followed by New Zealand in 1882. This meat was offloaded by hand and transported to cold stores around Smithfield market

By the 1960s the BTC had run into financial difficulties and was split up into smaller units with the road haulage co-operators moving to the Transport Holding Co. part of which was British Road Services (BRS) meat haulage

The acquisitive Vestey family had a huge requirement for meat haulage to supply their wholesale (Weddle and Co) and retail (Dewhurst) butchers and possibly saw this merger as a way of controlling their own destiny

Union Cartage’s main business was collecting frozen lamb from the Vestey owned Blue Star ships arriving at Liverpool, Avonmouth, Southampton and London. These frozen lamb carcasses were taken to the Vestey owned Union Cold Storage depots to be sold via the Vestey distribution network

But containerisation was on the way and the days were numbered for the labour intensive man-handling of individual meat carcasses from a ship’s refrigerated hold. Added to this the supermarkets had started retailing meat and had little need of wholesalers on Smithfield market. The Vestey owned Dewhurst Butchers, once the cash cow of the group, soon fell to the onslaught from Tesco and Sainsburys. The raison d’être of the entire Vestey group was disappearing

With the merger of UCC and BRS the Vesteys had inherited the BRS state owned structure; weak management and a strongly unionised workforce. Restrictive practises and huge inefficiencies were the name of the game. This caused operational and financial headaches even to the deep-pocketed Vestey family and gradually the company closed depots and sold off vehicles until a rump business was left